The Secret Life of St. Valentine



Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. Part of it is sour grapes—I’ve been dumped on V-Day. Twice. Every year, I start looking for somewhere to point the finger, and I’m not necessarily talking about the index one. Who was this St. Valentine dude and how did he inspire this holiday?

Unfortunately, not too much is known about him. No one knows what he looked like or even what his pre-saint name was. This is partly because back in the Roman days, a lot of Christians killed for their beliefs, and thus named saints, were dubbed St. Valentine. In fact, there were so many of them that in the official Roman Martyrology, there are three Saint Valentines listed as having died on February 14th.

There are lots of stories out there about who the St. Valentine was. The only things that seem to be consistent across them are that he was a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Cladius II and that he was killed in the year 270 A.D. Below, our favorite myths and theories as to the rest of the story:

  • Rebel with a cause. According to this kind of cheesy video, Emperor Claudius issued a decree banning marriage. He wanted a strong army, not sad soldiers missing their left-behind family. Priest St. Valentine thought the ban on marriage was ridiculous, so he kept on officiating weddings. He was arrested and sentenced to death. While in jail, many of the the couples he illegally married visited him and brought him flowers. So when a guy brings you flowers, just be glad you’re not on death row.
  • Jailhouse lova. Some say there’s an addendum to the above story. While St. Valentine was in prison, he happened to fall in love with the jailer’s daughter. On his way to his execution (which happened on February 14, of course), he slipped her a love note signed “From your Valentine.” Awww.
  • Good Christian to the end. In another version of the myth, Emperor Cladius’s beef with St. Valentine had nothing to do with marriage. As this story goes, Cladius went to St. Valentine and demanded that he worship the Roman gods. St. Valentine refused, so Cladius sent him to prison. While there, the jailer told St. Valentine that if he could heal his blind daughter, he’d believe in god. St. Valentine gave the girl back her sight, who knows how, he’s a freaking saint. The jailer was overjoyed and so converted. But Emperor Claudius, of course, had St. Valentine killed anyway. Ouch.
  • Part sweet/part stalker. According to those bizarro Belorusians, the story goes quite differently. St. Valentine was a priest who fell in love with the daughter of a czar. But she was already engaged to a prince and refused him. He was so heartbroken that he cut out his heart and sent it to her, still beating. And they say guys aren’t romantic?
  • And maybe he was no one special after all. Some theorize that St. Valentine getting a holiday named after him was a total coincidence. In 498 A.D., the Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia in mid-February. To kick it off, priests sacrificed a goat. Then young boys cut the hide of the goat into strips, and ran around the streets of Rome whipping young women with them. We would have beat them up, but Roman women supposedly loved this—being slapped blessed them with fertility for the year.The Pope at the time wanted to Christianize Lupercalia. He ditched the goat whipping and sanitized the holiday as St. Valentine’s Day, after a martyr who died on February 14 about 200 years before. 

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